I am reading The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond. The process of developing a program collectively, when developers and users both have access to the source code, is the “bazaar” in which everybody has the chance to catch bugs (program errors) and communicate that quickly to someone who is ready to fix the bug. The process is characterized by its rapid cycle of releases and improvements based on the shared work of involved users and competent developers. The “cathedral” is represented by tight control over the source code, limiting users’  access to the developers and programs that get provided to the users in a “finished” version.

If you get the chance, you can find an online version:
http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/

The published/printed version is also available.
Amazon link:
http://www.amazon.com/Cathedral-Bazaar-Musings-Accidental-Revolutionary/dp/0596001088

It got me to wondering whether there are parallels in education.

  • There is “The Textbook” and a cadre of teachers who lead students through the chapters.
  • Then there is “The Teacher” and classes of students who progress through material the teacher gives them.

In their basic form, both of these scenarios sound like “The Cathedral” approach. In the case of a mandated textbook, the educational program is well on the way to being “given” to the cadre of teachers who then typically pass the content on to their students.

State level curriculum outlines (in Massachusetts, they are called Curriculum Frameworks) provide something like a “super textbook” in which the specific text isn’t mandated, but the guidelines pretty much dictate the content that must be presented to students. When standardized assessment enters the picture, the learning process closes a kind of loop. If the material isn’t presented effectively so students get it, then the test will reveal failures of the system.

Adding the national level “No Child Left Behind” draws the loop even tighter. Schools whose students don’t meet the expected level of success for the current cycle are penalized in subsequent cycles.

  • Has the American public education system become a cathedral system?
  • Are the users involved in the “source code” or merely consumers of a product they are given?
  • Is there a bazaar, open-source-like education process?
  • Does the Internet play a part as a source of “text”?
  • Do teachers and students have a way to open up the process?

Teachers and students are both “users” in the sense that they are the interactive group within a classroom and school. Teachers may be simply presenters of information to the students which enhances the cathedral structure, but they may also be cooperative leaders of the classroom, working to get the class of learners to advance collectively and as individuals. The more involved each person is within the classroom, the more the learning experience approaches the bazaar structure.

Feedback is inherent to the open source improvement of programs. Bugs get identified back to competent developers who fix them. There is a steady cycling of the process to enhance the results (where testing isn’t the end, but a bug identifying process).

More Questions to Consider:

  • Which way would you characterize the way you work in your classroom, Cathedral or Bazaar?
  • Is skill/process mastery more important than student grades?
  • Do you cycle back around to skills/processes that deserve more development?
  • Do your students participate as bug identifiers, seeking to get clarification and improvement of the process of their own learning?
  • Does the school system in which you work (teach…since the main audience of this blog is educators rather than students, I think) provide for student feedback at all?
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